That Blasted Thing Called “Mall”

31 May

Financial dry spells are the worst. Particularly when self-confidence takes a dip. Oftentimes, the easiest fix to a damaged self image manifests with the name “Mocha Frappuccino” (in my case, a light mocha frappuccino, half-caff, soy. Picky, much?) or a trip to the mall for a bottle of pretty, bright nail polish or a new sundress. But on a tight budget, any attempt to repair the damage is a bit difficult. During a financial dry spell, it’s even laughable.

In a mood for a fun, bright, new, juicy, fresh, crisp (all adjectives that were making my mouth water) blouse or shift, I persuaded J to “walk around the mall” with me. Translation: “I so desperately would love to treat myself to a new wardrobe piece or two, and I want to go look at all the forbidden buttons and zippers, collars, and perfectly color blocked purses in the windows. I know I can’t buy anything, and yes, I will be fine!” Needless to say, a trip like this will most likely end in a pity party of discontentment. Did I think that the money was going to show up magically, with price tags falling off the dresses with my name on them? No, of course not. But for some reason, that never matters. I still subject myself to the torture of perusing what I cannot have.

Childish desire for immediate gratification replaces a mature fiscal standpoint when I decide to put myself in a situation destined to disappoint. And worse still, this attempt to gratify a perfectly innocent but impossible “want” or even ill-timed “need” creates a psychological/emotional war between my will power and my feelings. The fact that I have no money no longer means anything, because the dress I love will fit perfectly, and “I have been working so hard, and deserve to feel beautiful.” No longer do my values of saving or my goals for much bigger dreams in life matter. In that moment of self-subjected torture, I will do just about anything to “fix” the impossible dilemma and inconveniently unaffordable price tag.

Have you ever looked at your bank account on the last day of the month, and wondered, “where did all my money go”?! You won’t often find a big chunk of money missing or account for it all in a large transaction. You will, however, find little crumb-like traces of emotional sludge all over your bank statement. Rather than looking at your finances from a fiscal perspective, be realistic and look at each transaction the way you so often handle your spending-emotionally. The $40 of Starbucks charges, for example. Can you remember what was going on that day? How you felt? Our daily emotional struggles tend to govern our purchasing habits and ultimately, impact our future financial freedom.

Someday I will be able to go buy a pretty dress and surprise J with a new “jaw-dropping worthy” outfit. I will enjoy building my closet around pieces that give me confidence and reflect what I find beautiful. But every time I decide to pretend that day is now, I reduce the chances of it ever happening at all.

Two questions to ponder:

1. What does my bank account look like from an emotional standpoint? What triggers my destructive behaviors, further delaying my dreams towards financial freedom?

2. Do I have healthy alternatives that I can implement when the desire for immediate pleasure surfaces?

Rather than hitting the mall when a case of the “wants” creeps up, focus on something “lasting”. Invest your time and emotions into relationships, hobbies, goals- anything that brings you real joy. Curb your appetite toward emotional spending and free up some space on your bank statement. You will definitely experience real progress towards securing your financial future.

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